WhatsApp to limit message forwarding after India mob lynchings

New Delhi: WhatsApp is launching a test to limit forwarding messages that will apply to all users, the messaging app said on Thursday, after Indian authorities sought curbs on spread of rumours that have led to violent incidents.

“Today, we’re launching a test to limit forwarding on WhatsApp. In India — where people forward more messages, photos, and videos, than any other country in the world — we’ll also test a lower limit of 5 chats at once and we’ll remove the quick forward button next to media messages,” the company said in an email on Friday morning.

“We believe that these changes – which we’ll continue to evaluate – will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: A private messaging app,” it added.

Whatsapp, which had added a feature to let people forward a message to multiple chats at once a few years ago, had earlier this month launched a ‘forward label’ to identify messages which are not original and have been forwarded. More than 20 people have been killed by mobs in the past two months across the country after being accused of child kidnapping and other crimes in viral messages circulated via WhatsApp.

Earlier this month, WhatsApp in response to a call from the Ministry of Information Technology, said it required a partnership with the government as well as society in general to curb the spread of false information on its platform.

WhatsApp last week published advertisements in key Indian newspapers to tackle the spread of misinformation, its first such effort to combat a flurry of fake messages. Fake videos and rumours of child-lifting circulated via WhatsApp have triggered lynchings in at least eight states.

Taking note of the recent incident in Karnakata’s Bidar, where a 32-year-old software engineer was killed
after messages about child lifters did the rounds on WhatsApp, the ministry rued that “rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes” on the platform have not been addressed adequately by the company.

“It is regretted that the enormity of the challenge and the rampant abuse happening in the country leading to the repeated commissioning of crimes pursuant to the rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp,” it said.

Apart from labelling forwarded messages, WhatsApp has introduced a few initiatives to curb fake news. According to a Reuters report, WhatsApp is working with seven organisations, which includes the likes of
Centre For Social Research, to build and scale an education programme that can address the challenges posed by misinformation and fake news.